Opinion: Comey and McCabe IRS audits are a warning sign with a long history - CNN

  

Category:  News & Politics

Via:  jbb  •  4 weeks ago  •  15 comments

By:   Nicole Hemmer (CNN)

Opinion: Comey and McCabe IRS audits are a warning sign with a long history - CNN
If it turns out the former president did play a role in the audits of James Comey and Andrew McCabe, writes Nicole Hemmer, it would come as no great shock -- not only because of Donald Trump's words and actions, but also because presidents have long availed themselves of the Internal Revenue Service and other powerful agencies to target their political opponents.

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T



Opinion by Nicole Hemmer Updated 12:57 PM EDT, Fri July 08, 2022

Editor's Note: (Nicole Hemmer is an associate research scholar at Columbia University with the Obama Presidency Oral History Project and the author of "Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics" and the forthcoming "Partisans: The Conservative Revolutionaries Who Remade American Politics in the 1990s." She cohosts the history podcasts "Past Present" and "This Day in Esoteric Political History." The views expressed in this commentary are her own. View more opinion on CNN.)

(CNN) It's not yet possible to say, definitively, that the Trump administration engineered the intensive and extensive tax audits of former FBI Director James Comey and his deputy Andrew McCabe, reported Wednesday by the New York Times. The chances that the two men, whom then-President Donald Trump regularly derided on Twitter and at rallies, would have been selected for the rare audits are minuscule, but as the Times has noted, "minuscule does not mean zero." The IRS said in a statement to the Times that "individual audits or taxpayer cases" are "handled by career civil servants" and that IRS commissioner Charles Rettig "has never been in contact with the White House -- in either administration -- on IRS enforcement or individual taxpayer matters."

Nicole Hemmer

So it is theoretically possible that the two men near the top of the vindictive president's robust enemies list could have been randomly selected.

But if it turns out the former president did play a role in the audits, it would come as no great shock to many -- not only because Trump delights in attacking his foes, but also because presidents have long availed themselves of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and other powerful agencies to target their political opponents.

That history is not exculpatory of Trump, but rather reminds us that these agencies remain vulnerable to manipulation by bad actors. And that's a particularly worrisome flaw now, given widespread right-wing efforts to raze the administrative state. Americans concerned about those efforts -- which run the gamut from Supreme Court decisions gutting the power of entities like the Environmental Protection Agency to severe budget cuts at agencies like the IRS -- need to push for reforms, like stronger safeguards against political interference and more oversight from independent watchdogs to protect and legitimize these agencies that enable the federal government to function.

Agencies like the IRS are the engines of the administrative state. They're where policy becomes operative: how tax law is administered, how environmental regulations are enforced, how trade policy is effectuated. That has made them a tempting target for anti-government activists and politicians, who have long wedded broad anti-government rhetoric with efforts to dismantle, defund or defang those organizations.

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But presidents and executive appointees of all political stripes have also been enticed by what they saw as the potential of these agencies to carry out personal and political agendas.

This has been especially true of the IRS. After a number of scandals in the 1940s and early 1950s involving corrupt agents, the IRS underwent extensive reforms, including changing its name from the Bureau of Internal Revenue to the Internal Revenue Service, a change meant to emphasize the agency's commitment to the public. But even as it was undergoing that overhaul, the IRS had become a key tool of J. Edgar Hoover, the longtime director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The FBI relied on IRS records as part of its surveillance of domestic activists, in particular targeting leaders of the civil rights movement.

Presidents and their administrations also relied on the agency for political purposes. During the Kennedy administration, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy received a memorandum from labor leaders Victor and Walter Reuther that outlined ways to use administrative agencies like the IRS, the FBI and the Federal Communications Commission to counter "the growing strength of the radical right." This led to the creation of the Ideological Organizations Project, which targeted right-wing groups and challenged their tax-exempt status.

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By the time President Richard Nixon took office, then, the idea of weaponizing the IRS was already well established. His innovation -- one that resonates with the Comey and McCabe audits -- was to use the agency to target his personal enemies. During investigations into administration wrongdoing, White House Counsel John Dean testified that Nixon's lengthy enemies list had been forwarded to the IRS with the suggestion that the agency investigate their tax returns.

Nixon's IRS chief Johnnie Mac Walters refused. But the agency did deny tax exempt status to a number of liberal organizations; in one of the cases that went to court, a judge found that the organization had been "singled out for selective treatment for political, ideological and other improper reasons."

Intent matters in cases like these, which is why it's so important that we know about the Ideological Organizations Project and Nixon's enemies list. IRS decisions often have political consequences without necessarily having political motives.

In the 1970s, the IRS began working to remove tax-exempt status from private schools that engaged in racial discrimination. This affected religious schools like Bob Jones University that argued such discrimination was part of their belief system, and became a major event in the rise of a more active religious right.

Likewise, a change in IRS procedure in the 2000s and 2010s applied greater scrutiny to tax-exempt requests for organizations with political-sounding names, which for years was exaggerated as a coordinated effort by the Obama administration to target conservative groups (and President Barack Obama did acknowledge findings of individual singling out of conservative groups as "intolerable" and "inexcusable" failures of oversight and demanded greater accountability as a result).

In response to the news of the Comey and McCabe audits, the IRS chief has asked for an inspector general's investigation into the decision to audit the FBI leaders. That investigation will begin the important work of uncovering whether the audits were politically motivated. But while it is underway, the administration, with help from Congress, should work to strengthen the firewalls between the White House and federal agencies, while making clear that those agencies are an indispensable part of what makes this country work -- and making them more transparent, functional and ethical is a key part of the administration's larger goal of safeguarding our democratic system.

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JBB
Professor Principal
1  seeder  JBB    4 weeks ago

The crimes of Trump and Company will continue to reveal themselves! 

 
 
 
Texan1211
Professor Principal
1.1  Texan1211  replied to  JBB @1    4 weeks ago
The crimes of Trump and Company will continue to reveal themselves! 

No crime was stated as occurring in your article.

In fact, according to your source, there is nothing to suggest that Trump had anything to do with it--in fact, the IRS Commissioner himself claims he had no contact with the WH.

SO, who should we believe here:

You or your source?

 
 
 
bbl-1
Professor Quiet
1.2  bbl-1  replied to  JBB @1    4 weeks ago

[deleted]

 
 
 
bbl-1
Professor Quiet
1.2.1  bbl-1  replied to  bbl-1 @1.2    4 weeks ago

Taunting who?  The boot polishers or the Trump?

 
 
 
Revillug
Freshman Guide
1.2.2  Revillug  replied to  bbl-1 @1.2.1    4 weeks ago

This site is run by fascists!

j/k

 
 
 
Sean Treacy
Professor Expert
2  Sean Treacy    4 weeks ago

First off, how far off the deep end do you have to  to beleive Trump was ordering audits under the Biden administration?

This is just a temptest in a tea pot, designed to generate pro democratic headlines and than fade away before anyone looks too closely. Because it doesn't stand up to scrutiny:

Comey and McCabe were government employees for years, drawing predictable salaries that were reported to the IRS along with their tax withholding, and they would not have fallen into those categories [of high-income self-employed individuals] during that time.

But then Trump fired them — Comey in 2017, and McCabe in 2018. Comey wrote two lucrative books and started giving paid speeches, and McCabe joined CNN as an on-air law enforcement analyst. Those arrangements, say tax policy experts and former high-ranking IRS officials,   would have made both men far more likely to be chosen for a research inspection than they were as FBI employees, because the pool of high earners with such eclectic income streams is significantly smaller

By firing the two men, though, Trump set the pair up to make much more money than they did at the FBI —   launching them into a new tax bracket that the IRS examines much more frequently than it does even well-paid government employees.

The odds of both men being pulled into the research program’s audits by coincidence shortly after Trump fired them may seem slim, but   former top tax policy officials told The Post they were certain that’s what happened — though they acknowledged that it looked suspicious .

 
 
 
JBB
Professor Principal
2.1  seeder  JBB  replied to  Sean Treacy @2    4 weeks ago

Even Nixon didn't use the IRS to persecute enemies. Oh Wait! He did!

 
 
 
devangelical
Professor Principal
2.1.1  devangelical  replied to  JBB @2.1    4 weeks ago

I think we've seen a new low set by a republican POTUS while in elected office.

 
 
 
bbl-1
Professor Quiet
2.1.2  bbl-1  replied to  devangelical @2.1.1    4 weeks ago

Helsinki.  What happened behind those closed doors?  Why is even wondering about it a taboo subject?  Was it outright treason?

 
 
 
Ronin2
Professor Quiet
2.1.3  Ronin2  replied to  JBB @2.1    4 weeks ago

So did Obama; but since he went after tea party and far right PAC's- the left cheered it. Even though it cost US taxpayers later on.

 
 
 
devangelical
Professor Principal
2.1.4  devangelical  replied to  Ronin2 @2.1.3    4 weeks ago

but, but, what about...

 
 
 
bbl-1
Professor Quiet
3  bbl-1    4 weeks ago

Except the real warning sign is when someone says, "I'm like a real smart guy," DJT.  And if he was he wouldn't have to tell you.

As far as Trump the only thing that matters to him is himself and loyalty to himself by others.  Am amazed that this 'man of the grift' still continues to stand.

 
 
 
Revillug
Freshman Guide
3.1  Revillug  replied to  bbl-1 @3    4 weeks ago

I'm from NYC and I have to tell you that for a time I thought the guy had some sort of competence.

One of the things he did was take over renovations in Central Park that had stalled. He completed the renovation of a skating rink in Central Park that had been shuttered for a few years and then he did the same thing for the Central Park zoo.

But if I recall correctly, the antique clock at Central Park zoo was looted during the renovations.

His organization also eventually got evicted from running the Central Park Carousel.

If this sounds unfocused, let me try to wrap it up in a neater package. New York real estate has no shortage of bad actors and bad contractors. Trump managed to pick projects here and there to elevate his profile. Some of those projects came across as philanthropy even when they were scams.

 
 
 
Tessylo
Professor Principal
3.1.1  Tessylo  replied to  Revillug @3.1    4 weeks ago

Everything trumpturd is involved in is a scam.

 
 
 
Revillug
Freshman Guide
3.1.2  Revillug  replied to  Tessylo @3.1.1    4 weeks ago
Everything trumpturd is involved in is a scam.

That's pretty much true but he did make a few bold real estate moves in NYC back in the 70s and 80s.

He saw that waterfront property in Manhattan could be turned into luxury housing at a time when almost a half million people had fled the city because it was dangerous and in failure. He bought and renovated a couple of hotels. The one right next to Grand Central Terminal on 42nd Street (The Grand Hyatt?) was a pretty bold move. I think he bought the Paris Hotel on 57th too.

But not long after there was something wrong with the picture. He was a billionaire declaring bankruptcy with a negative net-worth. His finances were constantly a head-shaker. Now we know there was a lot of creative accounting going on.

That brings us up to the point where he went from a NYC celebrity to a national one and I wouldn't be telling anybody anything they don't already know about him.

He lies just to hear himself lie at this point.

 

 
 

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